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Huw L. Hopkins

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Extracts: The Phone Hacking Scandal: Journalism on Trial

Posted: 21/08/2012 14:48

The Phone Hacking Scandal: Journalism on Trial (Arima 2012) was released in February, at the mid-point of Lord Justice Leveson's Inquiry in to phone hacking. Huw L. Hopkins contributed the timeline leading up to the emergence of phone hacking to the book and in Volume 2, set for release this Autumn, he updates what has taken place during the trial. The textbook is edited by Prof. Richard Lance Keeble and John Mair, the following extracts are taken from Hopkins' chapter featuring some of the inquiry's highlights.

Piers Morgan sat in front of a small camera, in a boxy little room as his face was beamed across the Atlantic on to a television screen in Courtroom #73. David Sherborne QC, acting for victims of press intrusion, asked Morgan about Welsh lorry driver Steven Nott who claimed to have contacted Oonagh Blackman in August 1998. Nott had a story that the Daily Mirror might be interested in. Blackman was Special Projects Editor at the time and after taking down the information, she sent Nott £100, but the Mirror never ran the story. When Nott gave evidence, he said he thought it would have been 'one of the biggest stories of the decade'. He had just picked the wrong decade.

Module 1 investigated the relationship between the press and the public, looking at phone hacking and other potentially illegal behaviour. Deciding whose evidence to hear first was an important decision.

21 November, heart-throb and Hollywood actor Hugh Grant took to the stand. The choice to include him in the proceedings did two things: an A-list celebrity provided a touch of glitz to a potentially dull trial; it also spawned the greatest hashtag ever. The #womanontheleft, better known as top lawyer Carina Patry Hoskins, was considered to be ogling Grant on the left side of the screen, thus began trending across Twitter. The mainstream interest proved the world was following Leveson, not just stuffy old journalists.

It had love, lust, heartbreak and reality, a touch of humour and was always dramatic. The Leveson theatre was receiving rave reviews and attracting a vast audience.

Next the converted preacher, Richard Peppiatt, former Daily Star journalist and now ethical campaigner for journalism, quoted misleading headlines from his former newspaper: 'Angelina Jolie to play Susan Boyle in film' and 'Bubbles to give evidence at Jacko trial'.

News International legal team, Julian Pike and Tom Crone, on 13 and 14 December, admitted the 'one rogue reporter' defence used in 2006/7 was 'erroneous from the outset'.

17 January saw Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger agreeing with RCD about the state of the PCC: 'When the PCC's report into phone hacking came out I thought it was crudely a whitewash.' Earlier in the day, Ian Hislop, Editor of Private Eye, found it 'a bit embarrassing' that his weekly news magazine was not in the PCC, much like Desmond's newspapers, but claimed he didn't stand much of a chance as the 'Street of Shame' section in the Eye directly criticized rival newspapers and their regulator.

Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Mail Paul Dacre that afternoon recommended a 'strict vetting' of journalists and the necessity of 'press cards' to endorse credible members of the industry.

Paul Staines, known to his online readers as 'Guido Fawkes', explained how he was protected, thanks to the use of foreign servers and his nationality. 'I'm a citizen of a free republic and, since 1922, I don't have to pay attention to what a British judge orders me to do.'

Five journalists from the Sun were arrested on 11 February and James Murdoch stepped down as executive chairman of NI, just two weeks before the debut issue of the Sun on Sunday.

Module 2 began looking into the relationships between the press and the police, and the extent to which that had operated in the public interest. Lord Justice Leveson summoned DAC Sue Akers, who said there was 'a culture at the Sun of illegal payments'. One journalist received more than £150,000 to pay for sources.

Former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames gave evidence on 28 February about the collusion of the police and the press in Daniel Morgan's death in 1987. The private investigator was about to sell a big story to the NoW when he was found with an axe embedded in his skull outside a public house in South London.

The police section of the investigation provided humorous moments, including the second greatest twitter hashtag of all time. #Horsegate emerged following a revelation that Rebekah Brooks was lent a retired police horse from the Met, highlighting the close relationship between the former NI Chief Executive and the police.

In addition to phone and computer hacking, BBC's Panorama, aired on 27 March, accused NDS, a subsidiary of News Corp, of sabotaging a rival of Sky TV, by hacking television data cards and releasing information allowing people to watch pay-per-view channels for free.

On 3 April... James Murdoch stepped down as chairman of BSkyB, after Ofcom launched an investigation as to whether the company was 'fit and proper' to own a broadcasting licence.

On 5 April, Sky News admitted hacking email accounts, saying it was in the public interest in some cases. It appeared phone hacking might have spread overseas on 19 April with allegations that News Corp was involved with hacking phones of 9/11 victims.

Relationships with the Murdochs came under scrutiny as Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, overseeing their bid in the BSkyB deal, was accused of being a 'cheerleader' for the Murdochs. The Labour Party grilled Hunt and David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions where they denied any wrongdoing, although Cameron said: 'We all did a bit too much cosying up to Rupert Murdoch.'

The real showdown would take place on 24, 25 and 26 April with the appearance of the two Murdochs. James Murdoch revealed an email between himself and News Corp's chief lobbyist Frédéric Michel, who 'managed to get some info' on Jeremy Hunt's forthcoming announcement regarding the bid.

When Rupert returned for his second day of evidence, his recollection seemed noticeably absent when discussing his own wrongdoing, but entirely there if someone else was at fault.

Beginning the week of 9 May, Lord Justice Leveson.. look[ed] at the relationship between the press and the politicians.

The following day saw Rebekah Brooks come under immense pressure about her involvement with the police, discussing the BSkyB bid with Chancellor George Osborne, the 'lots of love/''laugh out loud' texts from David Cameron and her relationship with Rupert Murdoch. Just two days after giving evidence, Brooks was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The Labour Party were calling for Hunt to resign over his involvement. Addressing this, Leveson said: 'It is of course open to the prime minister to take any action he wishes in connection with the conduct of one of his ministers.'

When Jeremy Hunt's adviser, Adam Smith and NI lobbyist Frédéric Michel arrived on 24 May, they brought a set of JCBs to dig the MP a deeper hole. The Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, it appeared, had drafted a memo to Cameron to get behind Murdoch's bid to make him arguably the biggest player in the media. According to Michel, Hunt's department were 'encouraging [NewsCorp] to stay in the game on the BSkyB bid'.

Another member of the public caused problems again when Tony Blair gave evidence on 28 May, sneaking through a corridor behind the judge. David Lawley Wakelin, of the Alternative Iraq Inquiry, stood in between Leveson and Blair saying: 'The man is a war criminal!' before being forcibly ejected.

Jeremy Hunt sat down on 31 May. He distanced himself from his former staff member, Adam Smith, saying he used 'inappropriate language' in his email correspondence to Frédéric Michel, but Hunt admitted sending texts to James Murdoch personally after becoming Secretary. When Vince Cable 'declared war' on the Murdochs, Hunt expressed his concern about the deal to George Osborne via text, and after Hunt succeeded Cable's position, the Chancellor text back: 'I hope you like the solution.'

David Cameron gave a full day's worth of evidence on 14 June. He could not recall the memo urging support for BSkyB from Hunt, or the assurances he had asked from Andy Coulson about phone hacking. Robert Jay QC focused on the texts between Cameron and Rebekah Brooks. One text said: 'We are definitely in this together', a popular phrase for the Conservatives throughout the economic crisis.

The final module would see Lord Justice Leveson hear submissions for a more effective policy and regulation that support the integrity and freedom of the press while encouraging the highest ethical standards. Michelle Stanistreet, of the National Union of Journalists, said self-regulation had 'failed the test every time'.

DAC Sue Akers updated Leveson on police corruption - with one officer receiving £35,000 from News International, Express Newspapers and Trinity Mirror. Eight people were then arrested facing fresh allegations as part of Operation Weeting including Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks, Glenn Mulcaire and Neville Thurlbeck.

Although the first stage of the inquiry was just about to end, Lord Justice Leveson said: 'For me and for the team, however, we have only just started.' The second stage will continue once all police matters have been completed, but a first report will be released before the end of 2012. The rotten apple which dropped from its tree has bounced, rolled and spread its seed across the country to grow forests full of rotten apples.

 
 
 

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